State: Safety violations at Dollar Tree — including Lynnwood store — part of ‘a national problem’

Photos taken by inspectors at the Tacoma store show boxes in top heavy stacks more than 6 feet high, creating a danger of collapse. (Photos courtesy Washington Department of Labor & Industries)

Blocked emergency exit routes, improper stacking of boxes, and debris scattered on the floor are among the numerous safety hazards that have the Dollar Tree facing $132,000 in state fines.

A Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) inspection of the Tacoma Central Plaza store at 3208 S. 23rd St. resulted in three repeat willful violations — issued when a business repeatedly puts their employees at risk when they knew or should have known relevant safety requirements. These are the same hazards L&I cited Dollar Tree for just three months ago. The company is part of L&I’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which means its stores are subject to inspections at any time. Dollar Tree has appealed this citation.

“We’re seeing the same safety violations at Dollar Tree stores over and over again,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “This is a national problem as well. Even after multiple large fines, it appears Dollar Tree has not gotten the message that they need to take sustained, comprehensive steps to keep their workers safe.”

Improperly stored merchandise is more likely to fall, resulting in serious injuries or death if the boxes strike employees.

L&I inspectors report that they have found that too much corporate-ordered inventory and not enough storage space at Dollar Tree stores, leading to high stacks of boxes and other safety issues. Improperly stored merchandise is more likely to fall, resulting in serious injuries or death if the boxes strike employees. Inspectors also frequently see boxes stored in a way that blocks exits, which can be dangerous during an emergency. Furthermore, lifting heavy boxes onto over-the-head stacks is likely to cause strains and sprains or serious back injuries.

Inspectors also found debris on the floor not only in the storeroom, but also in the aisles where customers walk.

The Virginia-based company has dozens of stores throughout Washington, including Lynnwood and Edmonds. While the Edmonds location has not been fined for such violations, the Lynnwood Dollar Tree — located on 196th and Highway 99 — was fined $1,620 in 2017 and $2,200 in 2022. 

In February 2017, the Lynnwood store was fined for two repeat violations: an obstructed fire exit route and improperly stacked boxes. While it received an additional violation, the store was not assessed a fine for failing to ensure exit routes were at least 28 inches wide. The back stockroom had at least three makeshift aisles where the path to travel between boxes of light stock measured between 12 and 24 inches. 

L&I fined the Lynnwood store once again in December 2022, this time for failing to ensure walkways were free of debris and clear of tripping and slipping hazards. According to the citation, “The hallway floor outside the employee bathroom was completely covered, from wall to wall, with a combination of product boxes and steel shelving components, some bare and some vinyl-coated, forcing the employees to have to walk on it, risking tripping or slipping. There was so much there, there was no option to step over or around. Steel shelving components are slippery on smooth, tiled floors.” The Lynnwood location was issued two additional violations — but no fines — related to its employee bathroom and eating areas. 

The report noted that “Seven employees have only a break/eating area that was cluttered with boxes, miscellaneous debris, and including a container of a cleaning solution sitting atop the microwave…employees have a staff-only bathroom to use that was dirty with debris on the floor creating tripping hazards and generally not clean.” 

Debris on floors, like the ones from the Tacoma location pictured here, can cause falls.

L&I has inspected Washington Dollar Tree stores more than 30 times in the past four years, resulting in more than a million dollars in fines. The penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, which supports injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

The violations are not unique to Washington, L&I said, noting that Dollar Tree locations around the country have been cited for similar issues.

— By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

  1. Part of the problem at Dollar Tree stores is caused by customers. People drop things and don’t pick them up, step on merchandise on the floor, open up boxes and containers to see or smell products and don’t reclose them, and turn their children loose in the stores. The worst is when people take things out of the freezer, change their mind, and leave the food to thaw on other merchandise, thereby destroying both items.

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